You’re so pretty, flaky bread
In a moment of weakness over Christmas, I succumbed to the lure of discounted magazine subscriptions and signed up for two years’ worth of Bon Appetit. I couldn’t help myself. The pretty pictures of food spoke to me. In fact, I had planned on getting a one-year subscription but at the very last minute bent to their marketing will and signed up for two. I just wanted more pretty pictures of food.
They call it food porn, and Bon Appetit excels at it. When I came across a picture of something the magazine called “flaky bread” in the March issue, I’m pretty sure I drooled for, like, five minutes. I have a very large soft spot for bread, and though this unleavened flatbread wasn’t the crusty, warm, yeasty bread I normally go for, it looked pretty amazing nonetheless.
Now it turns out this flaky bread is a close cousin to parathas, these Indian flatbreads frequently stuffed with rice or cheese that I like to buy from the frozen section at Indian grocery stores and heat up as quick-hit meals. Still hot from the skillet, the flaky bread also tastes a little bit like my other favorite Indian bread, naan, though more buttery. The flaky bread is crispy on the outside, with papery flakes that give the bread its boring but descriptive name. There’s not much of an inside to speak of, but what is there is still tender, cooked from the heat but unblistered.
Reheated a day or so later in the toaster oven, the bread is almost like a cracker, yielding a satisfying crunch.
So good dipped in plain yogurt. Or for scooping when eaten with a rice or lentils dish. Or for eating plain. Must. Make. Again. Soon.
One note: The skillet gets very hot, and contact with the buttered dough emits lots of smoke. Open all your windows to prevent setting off your smoke detectors.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup water
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, for brushing
Mix salt and flour in a large bowl. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix well. Add 3/4 cup water, stirring it into the flour mixture with your hand. Knead the dough right in the bowl, about 5 minutes, until the dough is shiny and soft. (Mine never got very shiny or soft, though I kneaded it for about 9 minutes. But that didn’t seem to affect the final product.) Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm spot for at least 4 hours.
Divide the dough into 10 pieces and roll into balls. Place the balls on a flat surface, cover with plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes.
Working with one ball at a time, roll each ball on an unfloured surface with a rolling pin. You want to get it as thin as possible.
Brush the flattened dough with the room temperature butter. Sprinkle with some sea salt (I skipped the salt but will try adding it next time). Roll the dough into a cigar shape, then roll the cigar into a coil.
Using the rolling pin, flatten the coil into a thin round. (While this is kind of a time-consuming process, once you get the hang of it, you can actually do this quite quickly. And all of the rolling and flattening helps create the papery layers in the bread, so there is a reason for the seeming madness.) Don't worry about making a perfect circle; the irregularity of each round is part of the appeal of this bread.
Stack the rounds between layers of plastic wrap to keep them from sticking.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Brush both sides of each dough round with butter and cook on each side until well toasted on each side, about 1 minute per side. The dough will bubble and blister. It can burn rather quickly, so keep a close eye on it.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 10 pieces of bread.
To make ahead: Once coiled and flattened into thin rounds, you can freeze the rounds for use later. To cook, throw a round on the skillet directly from the freezer and add a minute or two to the original cooking time. I haven’t tried this yet, but I love the idea of being able to make bread on the spur of the moment.
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